Tag Archives: humility

14 October: A Happy Man

Here Bishop Erik Varden is discussing Humility Follow the link for his whole piece.

I wanted to share this section of it after yesterday’s visit to Korea and the ladies with Down’s syndrome who attended Mass by down-streaming. They still expressed their faith and devotion, most eloquently at Communion time.

What is a Down’s person worth in your view?

Some years ago I had the privilege of singing in a production of Handel’s Messiah. An alto in the choir had a son with Down’s, called Felix. Felix came to every rehearsal. Standing behind the conductor, he co-conducted vigorously. When the music was sad, he wept. When it was joyful, he was radiant. After the performance, he gave a noble speech to the choir, whom he addressed as his friends. I dare say each of us thereby felt ennobled.

I got to know Felix only slightly. Still I can say: he impressed me, taught me important lessons. The thought of Felix (whose name means ‘happy’) gives me joy. There are countries now, in the Western world, that no longer register any births of children with Down’s. This is presented as scientific progress. The Felixes of this world are unwanted, deemed encumbrances. Euthanasia, likewise, is spreading from country to country, advertised as a human right. Yet wherever euthanasia is available as choice, involuntary euthanasia is soon being practised. Underneath a surface of what can seem like impenetrable bureaucratic discourse, an existential combat is taking place.

Faced with such sinister developments, we have work to do. The pursuit of humility is not just a matter of devotion; it is about upholding the dignity of all human life, recognising ourselves among the weak and outcast, standing up for table fellowship. To be humble on these terms is not to be meek and mild; it requires courage, strength, and perseverance in the face of hostile opposition. We are to rise to this summons, strengthened by the food of immortality. May we not be found unworthy of Christ’s example and sacrifice.

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8 October: Little Flowers XCV

Santa Maria degli Angeli was, of course, not the great basilica that greets the pilgrim today, but a little chapel.

Francis and his companions continued their journey and came to Santa Maria degli Angeli; and, when they were nigh thereunto, Friar Leo lifted up his eyes and looked toward the said Place of Santa Maria degli Angeli, and saw an exceeding beautiful Cross, whereon was the figure of the Crucified, going before Saint Francis, even as Saint Francis was going before Him; and on such wise did the said Cross go before the face of Saint Francis that when he stopped it stopped too, and when he went on it went on; and that Cross was of such brightness that, not only did it shine in the face of Saint Francis, but all the road about him also was lighted up; and it lasted until Saint Francis entered into the Place of Santa Maria degli Angeli. 

Saint Francis, then, having arrived with Friar Leo, they were welcomed by the friars with very great joy and charity. And from thenceforward, until his death, Saint Francis dwelt for the greater part of his time in that Place of Santa Maria degli Angeli. And the fame of his sanctity and of his miracles spread continually more and more through the Order and through the world, although, by reason of his profound humility, he concealed as much as he might the gifts and graces of God, and ever called himself the greatest of sinners. 

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18 August: Going Viral CVII: a non-renewable resource

We have not all sailed through the pandemic without hurt, illness and loss. These words from Fr Brian D’Arcy offer a chance to reflect on our recent experience and on what comes next in our lives, the decisions we are making day by day.

Time is a non-renewable resource; so, we should spend it wisely by keeping life in a proper perspective. It means making choices about what is essential and what is not.

Covid gave many of us a renewed sense of our own mortality. It made the possibility of death undeniable. It is one of the contradictions of our culture that we do everything in our power to deny our own mortality; yet by denying death we actually give it increased power over us.

As we continue to integrate the lessons Covid taught us, we’ll acknowledge our mortality in wise and healthy ways. We need to give death its rightful place – and there’s nothing morbid about that. It helps us to be aware of how fleeting life is. It makes us more grateful every day for the precious time we have and it makes me humbler about the things I might have achieved.  Since I now know my life is brief I ought to reflect long and hard on what I do with it. How I spend my hours determines how I spend my days and how I spend my days is how I spend my life.

So let us reflect together in prayer:

Lord, help me to use the gift of time wisely. “What is life?” St James asks, “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:15). Guide me to spend less time on social media and more time seeking your truth; less time chasing success and more time seeking your peace.

May I see each day as a special gift from you. I do not know what tomorrow will bring but with your help and guidance, I will become humbler, gentler and more compassionate. Hear and answer this prayer Lord, in your own time.  AMEN

For full script visit this link.

Photo by HDGB

 

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8 August: Emily: I’m Nobody

walking together

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there ‘s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They ‘d banish us, you know.


 How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Emily Dickinson.

I would guess that Mark’s rich young man that Sister Johanna has been talking about was a ‘somebody’, at least a local somebody, a village celebrity. Then he discovered that he was a nobody. Sister Johanna explored how getting close to Jesus meant giving away the possessions that trip us up. Emily Dickinson suggests what comes next: forming a community, not seeking affirmation from gossip column inches!

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4 August: A Gift of Love and Sorrow, IV.

Speaking and listening: ESB

We’re in the midst of a reflection on the rich young man (see Mark 10:17-22) and I invite you to scroll back to our previous posts in order to catch up.

I’d like to dive straight in today and say that when the rich young man makes his rather preposterous claim to have kept all the Commandments from his earliest days, ‘Jesus looked steadily at him and was filled with love for him’ (Mark 10:21). As I ponder this, I see once again that Jesus responds to people in a manner that is very different from what I’d have done. At this point in the story, my annoyance at the rich young man returns. After all, he’s just more or less admitted that he’s perfect–and no one’s perfect. Why doesn’t Jesus take him down a peg or two? Instead, Jesus is filled with love for him. So, I try to understand Jesus. He is always right, always a superb psychologist. No one pulls anything over on Jesus. Why has the rich young man just stolen his heart? It’s possible that the rich young man’s claim is not preposterous after all.

I wait quietly in prayer, asking for understanding of Jesus’ love for the rich young man. A few ideas begin to occur to me.

There is a certain unabashed innocence in the rich young man. He’s oblivious to the fact–or doesn’t care–that some people would find his claim to have kept all the Commandments preposterous. This is simply how he sees himself, and false modesty is not part of his character. Jesus loves this sort of forthright person.

In the rich young man, Jesus finds a character who is not plagued by any neurotic self-doubt. He has a ‘can do’ attitude, and a ‘can do’ view of himself. “I’ve kept all the Commandments. I can do that!” How refreshing, Jesus must have thought. And I become aware of how delightful the young man’s personality might have been–cheerful and full of hope.

Although Jesus challenges the rich young man when he calls Jesus ‘good,’ the fact is, the young man seems to recognise in Jesus’ goodness the specifically divine attribute of goodness. We touched on this in yesterday’s post and I promised we’d look at it today. I think Jesus asks him to explain his reason for calling him ‘good’ because he wanted the rich young man to say that he saw Almighty God’s own goodness in Jesus. The young man doesn’t actually come right out and say this, however–perhaps he is not fully conscious of what he sees in Jesus, or is not yet able to articulate it beyond calling him ‘good.’ But whether the young man can articulate all that he sees in Jesus or not, Jesus himself, with his penetrating human insight, would know that there is only a short step from what the young man sees in Jesus to identifying Jesus with God. Jesus sees this and loves him for it.

The rich young man has courage. He does not back down from his assertion that Jesus is ‘good’ and he does not withdraw his question about inheriting eternal life. He has strength and determination. He wants to hear Jesus’ answer. He’s waiting for it. Jesus would smile at this, I believe.

If, as he says, he has kept all the Commandments from his youth, the rich young man can be relied upon to be truthful, peace-loving, chaste, modest, respectful of others’ possessions, and a loving son to his parents, among other things. This is a thoroughly decent human being, practised in virtue–a very loveable person.

As already indicated, the rich young man has approached Jesus with a combination of determination and humility. This is an unusual mix. In general, people tend to have one or the other, but not both. If the young man were to become a follower of Jesus, he’d have a wonderful ability to relate to people and to preach the kingdom. Jesus likes this very much.

At this point, I begin to like the young man, too. A lot. Based on Jesus’ next remark, it’s clear that he thinks the young man would be an asset to the Twelve. According to the text, Jesus is filled with love for him and then actually invites him to become one of his close followers. But not before he challenges him in an even deeper way.

We’ll look at that tomorrow.

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20 June: He comes and goes, like the ferry-boat.

XXI Century Ferryboat, Mallaig, Scotland.

Tagore is writing in the last years of the XIX Century from Bengal, a region today split between India and Bangladesh.


Why is there always this deep shade of melancholy over the fields and river banks, the sky and the sunshine of our country? I came to the conclusion that it is because with us Nature is obviously the more important thing. The sky is free, the fields limitless; and the sun merges them into one blazing whole.

In the midst of this, man seems so trivial. He comes and goes, like the ferry-boat, from this shore to the other; the babbling hum of his talk, the fitful echo of his song, is heard; the slight movement of his pursuit of his own petty desires is seen in the world’s market-places: but how feeble, how temporary, how tragically meaningless it all seems amidst the immense aloofness of the Universe! The contrast between the beautiful, broad, unalloyed peace of Nature—calm, passive, silent, unfathomable,—and our own everyday worries—paltry, sorrow-laden, strife-tormented, puts me beside myself as I keep staring at the hazy, distant, blue line of trees which fringe the fields across the river.

Where Nature is ever hidden, and cowers under mist and cloud, snow and darkness, there man feels himself master; he regards his desires, his works, as permanent; he wants to perpetuate them, he looks towards posterity, he raises monuments, he writes biographies; he even goes the length of erecting tombstones over the dead. So busy is he that he has not time to consider how many monuments crumble, how often names are forgotten!

From Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore.

The war in Ukraine should remind us that monuments do crumble and most names are forgotten. So are we and our desires tragically meaningless? We are certainly strife-tormented, but is the Universe aloof, or is it just that so much of our works look trivial set against Creation? Christians assert that behind ‘Nature’ or the ‘Universe’ is a loving Creator whose Spirit hovered over the Deep and will fill our hearts with Love, if we allow it to happen.

The Spirit may inspire some to study and contemplate the stars and galaxies which do make our works look trivial, but it is these very works – the telescopes, the computer-driven maths – that give us that sense of wonder, of littleness, and please God, of humility. The Spirit inspires others to practical love of fellow human beings or to revive and restore our living but damaged planet. We are given the power of reason to use as humble, fellow creators, not to despait, nor to amass a personal fortune, because there is nothing better to be done in a melancholy world. We are people of hope!

Come, Holy Spirit and kindle in us the power of your Love.

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8June: Vita Brevis.

Dunstan worshipping the Risen Lord.

This life is short, and we are not important. Art by Saint Dunstan, philosophising by Tagore.

What a to-do there is over this tiny bit of life! To think of the quantity of land and trade and commerce which go to furnish its commissariat* alone, the amount of space occupied by each individual throughout the world, though one little chair is large enough to hold the whole of him! Yet, after all is over and done, there remains only material for two hours’ thought, some pages of writing!

What a negligible fraction of my few pages would this one lazy day of mine occupy! But then, will not this peaceful day, on the desolate sands by the placid river, leave nevertheless a distinct little gold mark even upon the scroll of my eternal past and eternal future?

Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore.

*Commisariat ia a military term for the supplies of food and equipment.

Did Saint Dunstan count it a lazy day when he spent his time engrossed in drawing this picture? It is a peaceful picture, with the saint content to be close to his Lord, touching the hem of his garment. (Luke 8.44) Against the events in history that he was involved with as abbot and archbishop, he chooses to show himself as a stocky, insignificant monk, seeking the grace of God to sustain him in all his works.

May we value the quiet moments that come our way, and find time to put ourselves in the presence of God when they arise … not that He is ever absent when life is hectic.

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28 March: Pius V on Lenten Fasting.

Photo by CD.

Here is a prayer attributed to Pope Saint Pius V to bring us back to Lenten observances.


Lord, look with favour
on your household.
Grant that,
though our flesh be humbled
by abstinence from food,
our souls, hungering for you,
may be resplendent in your sight.

I found this prayer in Scott Hahn’s Lenten Cookbook p34; see our review on 12 February.

The idea of humbling our flesh suggests that it may have become too proud, rather like the various parts of the Body of Christ saying they don’t need each other (1 Corinthians 12). When all is going well we can have such delusions of grandeur and importance, but we can be brought low by disease, such as covid-19 happening to ourselves or to dear ones; by circumstances beyond our control; accepting these can be one way of humbling our flesh. And so too can little sacrifices in food and drink. And let’s remember that we are all members of the one body of Christ: any savings from fasting and abstinence could be shared with others through CAFOD, SVP or any other agency.

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7 October, Our Lady of the Rosary: Review of The World of Marian Apparitions by Wincenty Laszewski

My Catholic primary school taught us stories from the Bible, one between two at a shared desk. We also heard about miracles outside Scripture, including visitations of Our Lady, especially at Lourdes and Fatima. I came to feel the emphasis on these ‘private revelations’ was excessive, but visiting England’s Walsingham, a shrine for almost 1000 years, set me thinking about the role of Mary ever since.

We’d been told that only Catholics honour Mary, yet Walsingham has beautiful Anglican and Orthodox Shrines as well as the Catholic one. Each one made us welcome. We learned that icons like the Mother of Perpetual Succour came from the East. Later, joining  ecumenical pilgrimages meant walking and talking, eating and praying together.

This book may inspire the reader to go on pilgrimage to one of the featured shrines, or to turn the pages while voyaging in imagination, beads in your hand, a candle and pilgrim’s shell beside you. The many well-chosen pictures will help you to be there. 

Doctor Samuel Johnson, a devout 18th Century Anglican philosopher, had this to say regarding pilgrimage: ‘To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible’. In other words, there is room to be led by feelings as well as by intellectual theology when visiting shrines.

The book may set you thinking about Mary and her place in the life of the Church. When it first opened Walsingham’s Anglican shrine attracted charges of ‘Mariolatry’ – idolising Mary. Less stridently, others judge the honour given to Mary to be obscuring her Son. But on the Feast of the Assumption this year, Pope Francis pointed out that Mary was and remains humble, so that God was able to beget his Son through her and pour out blessings through her, down to today. So it is in humility that we should set out on pilgrimage, on foot, by transport, or through the imagination. 

Whoever receives an apparition can expect grief from a naturally sceptical world and a deliberately sceptical Church which has to discern the spirits at work in these incidents. But once the Church has accepted an apparition as genuine, we can follow Johnson’s advice: ‘Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue.’

Wincenty Laszewski has limited his explorations to apparitions beginning from the late 19th Century, thus omitting Lourdes which still witnesses renewal of faith as well as physical and emotional healings. Renewal and healing occur at other shrines too, and Laszewski leads us to many across the world.

Fatima, whose Sister Lucia certainly suffered at the hands of the Church, is well known but most of these shrines were new to me. At Beauraing, Belgium, in the 1930s the children who saw and heard Mary came from families indifferent to religion; it was only after the Occupation ended that the local bishop could pronounce the supernatural nature of the events. The children faded into the background, later marrying and raising Christian families. Thus they lived out their response to Mary’s two questions: “Do you love my Son?” and “Do you love me?” 

Far from there, in Ngome, South Africa, a German Benedictine missionary received visions in the 1950s. Sister Reinolda heard from Mary that she should be addressed as ‘Tabernacle of the Most High’, as she had held Jesus, the Host, in her womb and in her arms. It was time for Christians to be ‘a sea of hosts’ to bring Christ’s salvation to the world; a poetic but doctrinally orthodox idea. We are the Body of Christ, as Saint Paul proclaims (1 Corinthians 12:27). Mary also asked for a shrine where seven springs come together.

In Egypt it was at a Coptic Orthodox Church dedicated to Mary that she was seen by thousands of Muslims and Christians on a number of occasions. As always there is scepticism from more than one side, theories of mass suggestion  or natural phenomena or fakery, as Laszewski makes plain. But in the spirit of ecumenism which characterises Egyptian Christianity, the Catholic Church accepts the judgement of the Orthodox Patriarch’s Commission that the apparitions, and subsequent individual healings, were God’s work. 

Scepticism is an honest position to adopt towards apparitions, and always the first stance of the Church which proclaims Christ Crucified, foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). But Mary makes the sign of the cross during many apparitions, indicating that the Cross is central to her message. Those who accept the divine origin of the apparitions should not disdain people who are indifferent or unmoved.

As time goes by, shrines may continue to flourish in ways that the original visionaries could not have expected. Who would have predicted today’s ecumenical scene in Walsingham? Mary was seen here before the Reformation, before even the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity; now it is a place where some of those wounds are being healed. What blessings will be made available to the faithful and the world as these modern shrines find their lasting mission?

A few points regarding Wincenty Laszewski’s labour of love. At p197 he wrongly portrays Frank Duff as seeking permission of St John Paul II to found the Legion of Mary. Duff had begun this work in 1921 in Dublin, more than half a century before meeting the Pope in Poland. Saint Pius X became Pope in 1903, not 1913. Laszewski relates how his predecessor, Leo XIII had a vision of the 20th Century and its evils. The Pope did not reveal details of this event, but Laszewski claims it as a Marian Apparition because Leo championed the Rosary. Pious suppositions are not history!

I would not be alone in scratching my head over Laszewski’s description of Ngome as  a place where natural realities came into contact with the supernatural. Springs of water have always been places where contact with the supernatural is a given, as at the Pool of Bethesda, or Lourdes, or many a holy well. In the words Chesterton put into the mouth of Mary, speaking to King Alfred:

The gates of Heaven are lightly locked,
We do not guard our gain,
The heaviest hind may easily
Come silently and suddenly
Upon me in a lane.

Lord, grant us eyes to see with and to discern your presence in the people we meet.

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4 September, Season of Creation VI: The gift to be simple, III.

We turned to Saint Gregory the Great, see yesterday’s post, after reading this passage from his successor, Good Pope John XXIII, who at this time, November 1948, was Papal Representative in France, well able to comment on ‘cunning minds’ in Vatican diplomacy, especially as he was writing in his journal, for his eyes only! Notice how he links the simplicity of the just man with the scientist’s search for truth.

Oh, the simplicity of the Gospel, of The Imitation of Christ, of the Littler Flowers of Saint Francis, and of the most exquisite passages in Saint Gregory, in his Moralia: ‘The simplicity of the just man is derided’, and the words that follow! I enjoy these pages more and more and return to them with joy. All the wiseacres of this world, and all the cunning minds, including those in Vatican diplomacy, cut such a poor figure in the light of the simplicity and grace shed by this great and fundamental doctrine of Jesus and his saints! This is the surest wisdom, that confounds the learning of this world and, with courtesy and true nobility, is consistent, equally well and even better, with the loftiest achievements in the sphere of science, even of secular and social science, in accordance with the needs of time, place and circumstance.

‘This is the height of philosophy, to be simple with prudence’, as was said by Saint John Chrysostom, my great patron saint of the East.

Lord Jesus, preserve in me the love and practice of this simplicity which, by keeping me humble, makes me more like you and draws and saves the souls of men.

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